Spring Time: Top Position Battles

The Rutgers spring campaign is less than a week away and there will be a series of position battles to watch through the 15-practice camp.

Position battles are rarely decided in spring practice but are always under the microscope at key positions. Rutgers lost multiple impact starters at the end of the season and has many young players ready to compete for starting jobs.

With spring camp kicking off in less than a week, five position battles stand out as the ones to watch through April.

5.) Cornerback -- This battle will heat up in the summer with many pieces not necessarily in place yet. Right now, Tejay Johnson and Gareef Glashen are penciled in as starters and a lot of other guys not necessarily ready to battle as early as this spring.

Freshmen Delon Stephenson and Nadir Barnwell will be in the mix, but it is Stephenson's first semester at Rutgers and Barnwell will be limited after shoulder surgery. Converted receiver Ian Thomas remains new to the position as well. On the whole, cornerback will be a focus on development.

4.) Running Back-- Savon Huggins is the clear-cut starter but there is nothing but opportunity behind him. Dontea Ayres enrolled early for a shot at immediate playing time and redshirt freshman Desmon Peoples flashed signs of excitement as a member of the scout team last fall.

Walk-on Paul James out of Glassboro (N.J.) should be the one to watch this spring, James has always been right on the edge of major playing time but has yet to get a true in-game opportunity. He debuted last year and had his best showing against Pittsburgh but gets his most legitimate shot this spring.

3.) Right Tackle -- Rutgers has multiple options to explore in its quest to replace R.J. Dill. Veterans Taj Alexander and Andre Civil each have tackle experience but project better as guards. Then there are younger options like Keith Lumpkin, Chris Muller and Ryan Brodie.

Lumpkin got to see the field last year and received ton of first-team looks during the bowl season for developmental purposes. The hulking St. Peter's Prep product is vastly improved from his high school days and is approaching the point where he can step into a starting role.

Look for Muller and Brodie to both get opportunities this spring. Both came in as highly-touted tackle recruits and used a semester on the practice squad to develop their bodies from what they were in high school.

Flood showed last year that he is willing to rotate linemen, which is another possibility at right tackle.

2.) Safety -- Lorenzo Waters has one spot locked down but Sheldon Royster, Davon Jacobs and Jeremy Deering are in for an exciting battle alongside him with plenty of time to be earned. Rutgers uses rotates three or four safeties in its scheme and lost Duron Harmon, Wayne Warren and Mason Robinson from last year's roster.

Jacobs wins the experience battle at the position, with Royster coming in as a transfer fix months ago and Deering moving from wide receiver. Rutgers uses its safeties not only in 1-on-1 coverage, but as major impact guys on special teams. Deering brings an edge on special teams but all three are expected to have roles on the defense this season.

1.) Middle Linebacker -- Middle and outside linebacker battles go hand-in-hand this spring. Jamal Merrell is solidly entrenched as a two-year starter on the strong side but the other two spots will go to who stands out. Kevin Snyder can play multiple positions, as can freshman Lester Liston.

Rutgers also has redshirt freshmen Quanzell Lambert and Steve Longa, who fit at middle linebacker and weakside respectively. All four have the capability to win a starting job and it will come down to finding the best two and where they fit. Khaseem Greene and Steve Beauharnais are not easily replaced but Rutgers has a lot of young guns ready to battle for the opportunity next week.

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